How Bellevue's Superintendent Works

Interesting article in last week's Times about the Superintendent over in Bellevue. First, she's never been a superintendent before; Bellevue got to her come from her consulting business in California. Two, she says she's doing this one gig and then going back to consulting. (She was allowed to still keep that job as president something that seems to bother some. The State Auditor found no issue with her hiring of a colleague to work as an education consultant.)

What makes her most interesting is this:

The first-time superintendent is engaged in a bold move to change the teaching culture in a district that has already gained a reputation for excellence, with all five of its high schools regularly winning national acclaim.

But it's that very reputation, the school board believes, that has masked an important failure: reaching students at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder in a district that's far more diverse than many may realize.

Cudeiro believes a philosophy she honed over eight years of consulting work could close the divide.

Her predecessor created a standardized curriculum, making sure that all schools were teaching the same material, to try to close the academic divide. Cudeiro is moving the district's 27 schools in a slightly different direction; she wants to open up the classroom, giving teachers a chance to learn from one another, and to give them the freedom to deviate from the standard curriculum if a different lesson will work better.

An important part of her philosophy is getting teachers to use "differentiated instruction" — a kind of classroom juggling act in which a teacher uses different methods to reach students who are struggling, while also challenging the brightest.

In previous years, "teachers went to high-quality training, but the focus was on improving the individual," Cudeiro said. "We are not wanting islands of excellence. Let's open up the classroom practice, so everybody's seeing good models."

Let teachers deviate off the standard curriculum? Heresay. Differentiating curriculum so you reach everyone in the class? You don't say.

She's also for merit-pay.

From the article:

Tyee Middle School teacher Benjamin Evans served last year on a school leadership team and came away believing Cudeiro's ideas can make a difference.

"You get a lot of references to drinking the Kool-Aid" from other teachers, Evans said. "And I understand that — teachers are a pretty independent bunch."

But Cudeiro's methods are "the strongest, most organized and pointed initiative I've seen," the eight-year teaching veteran said. "This is a process I see as helping me."

Last year, as part of the process, Evans — a Spanish teacher — shared ideas with a language-arts teacher and, based on her methods, decided to do a "vocabulary inventory," informally testing his second-year students to see if they knew the definitions of common words and grammatical terms. To his surprise, they stumbled over common words.

So Evans began emphasizing the meanings of common words in class, and did a "word wall" that outlined important words and their uses. The idea also fit into an overarching goal at Tyee to help students learn "academic vocabulary" — key terms they need to know in any subject in order to gain a deeper understanding of the content.

That academic vocabulary sounds like a great idea to help kids start with a solid foundation so they don't get lost (and turn off later on when they can't follow the discussion).

She sure is a different superintendent than Mike Riley, the late superintendent who came before her.

Riley tried to tackle the achievement gap by creating a Web-based common curriculum for six core subjects. But the standardized curriculum may have helped push a dissatisfied teaching staff to go on strike in 2008, a year after Riley left.

"Don't be boxed in by the common curriculum," Cudeiro tells principals and teachers, encouraging them to use their own lesson ideas instead, or come up with new ones.

Bellevue's schools have long marched in unison to ideas developed in the central office, so for some teachers, the formation of school-based leadership teams is welcome.

"It's a system that recognizes not all schools in the district are the same," said Barbara Velategui, a 40-year teaching veteran who teaches health and AIDS education at Newport High, and serves on the school's new leadership team.

"The concept is very exciting to me," she said. "It's been a very long time since the expertise of the staff has been recognized."

Well, there's certainly a contrast between Seattle and Bellevue and it will be fascinating to see who does better. (Yes, I realize Bellevue is much smaller but it does have a fairly diverse population.)


Charlie Mas said…
I think this shows how the culture of public K-12 education is a dysfunctional culture. Anyone coming from any other industry would see, immediately, how messed up things are and would take the quick, obvious steps to correct them.

Funny thing, here in Seattle Dr. Goodloe-Johnson is also trying to make the same sort of corrections, but, because she is a member of the public K-12 education culture, she is incapable of making the reforms in an efficient or effective way. She's too bogged down playing the internal politics game that makes this culture dysfunctional.
Anonymous said…
Melissa said: "(Yes, I realize Bellevue is much smaller but it does have a fairly diverse population.)"

I don't want to draw away from the bulk of the article and post, but there's a big difference between Seattle and Bellevue, demographically. From 2000:

70.1 % White
8.4 % Black
13.1 % Asian
1.0 % American Indian or Alaska Native
0.5 % Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
4.5 % Two or more races
5.3 % Hispanic or Latino

11.8 % Below poverty level

74.3 % White
2.0 % Black
17.4 % Asian
0.3 % American Indian or Alaska Native
0.2 % Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
3.2 % Two or more races
5.3 % Hispanic or Latino

5.7 % Below poverty level

Note that the poverty level in Seattle is more than double that of Bellevue. And African Americans make up more than 4x the population in Seattle than in Bellevue.

And I didn't dig up the stats on SPS, but if I remember correctly, SPS black student percentages were roughly double that of the city at large.

Again, I don't think any of this detracts from most of the points in the post/article, but Seattle and Bellevue are very different cities, demographically. Bellevue is 91.7% white and asian.
WenD said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
WenD said…
none1111: Do you know if Bellevue has more ELL students? Not disputing your numbers. Just curious.
dan dempsey said…

Here is the latest data from OSPI:

October 2008 Student Count 17,249
May 2009 Student Count 17,368
Gender (October 2008)
Male 9,052 52.5%
Female 8,197 47.5%
Ethnicity (October 2008)
0.3% American Indian/Alaskan Native

26.9% Asian/Pacific Islander
2.6% Black
7.9% Hispanic
53.0% White

18.7% Free or Reduced-Price Meals (May 2009)
11.0% Special Education (May 2009)
9.2% Transitional Bilingual (May 2009)
0.0% Migrant (May 2009)

October 2008 Student Count 45,968
May 2009 Student Count 46,362
Gender (October 2008)
Male 23,515 51.2%
Female 22,453 48.8%
Ethnicity (October 2008)
1.9% American Indian/Alaskan

22.0% Asian/Pacific Islander
21.1% Black
11.7% Hispanic
43.4% White

41.3% Free or Reduced-Price Meals
14.2% Special Education
11.7% Transitional Bilingual
0.6% Migrant (May 2009)

The Black student school population in Seattle is about 8 times that of Bellevue's.

Also note that Bellevue's Black student WASL math scores in grade 4 were slightly worse than Seattle's during recent years. Riley's plan did not produce positive results for Black students but no matter SPS under Santorno rarely took relevant data into account. Just like our current school board.
WenD said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
WenD said…
The new Bellevue superintendent's plan sound exciting.
The thing I like is (1) the teachers have some autonomy and it comes straight from the Superintendent and (2) I still like the idea of trying differentiated teaching (with curriculum support). It seems a worthy effort to make.
Unknown said…
Dr. C was in Chicago working in a couple of projects. The one I was associated with was in Area 4. She is the kind of administrator that Chicago sorely needs. She lives and knows school reform as resting with the professionals in the school organization. It is everybody in a school getting on board, not like zombies, but hashing it out until everybody is on board. She is about developing strong professional communities and having them address where the greatest need lies and developing a plan, just to start. This is the kind of top administrator that Chicago needs but will not get. We get unqualified MBA's and educational types with NO experience in real school reform and who know nothing about targeted leadership and much less cycles of learning. Wishing Dr. C and the Bellevue community the best!
BK said…
Bellevue Superintendent Amalia Cudeiro’s credentials look good on paper and she sounded OK in her initial job interview, but she may be way over her head in Bellevue.

Who is this person? As a Bellevue SD employee, I am still trying to figure this out.

What has been evident in her first year on the job is that her communication to all constituents was extremely poor.

For example:

• In September she banned Bellevue students from watching Obama’s national address to students on live TV during the school day.
• She paid outside consultants to deliver staff development to district staff. The consultants that she hired were affiliated with her private consulting firm “Targeted Leadership Consulting.” She and her husband, Jeff Nelson, are “Senior Partners” in this business. Questions arose over a conflict of interest.
• She is a self-proclaimed “short-timer” in this job. Her intention is to return to the consulting business once she leaves her position as superintendent of Bellevue. Is the Bellevue School District serving as a “laboratory” as a Bellevue School Board member mentioned in the Seattle Times article?
• In the spring she closed Robinswood Middle School/High School over strong protests from the community.
• There were issues over misplaced paperwork and missed deadlines on the accreditation of high schools in Bellevue.
• Her plan was to implement Instructional Leadership Teams and Professional Learning Communities in all school buildings. Staff who participated in professional development training never really had a clear picture of what this process was expected to look like until the year ended and the schools completed one cycle. Questions then arose around what to do next.
• The funding for this district-wide professional development came from a one-time outside grant. Future funding for this program will need to come from the BSD budget – not a fiscally responsible plan in these times of education funding cuts.
• She came across as overly critical and did not appear to inspire the confidence and trust of the people that she directly supervised. She had a tremendous amount of leadership turnover this year – 30% of principals and 75% of her administrative cabinet.
• Her expectations of staff (teacher and principal) accountability were unclear although she spoke of being able to “get rid of “ teachers and administrators.
• One of her goals was to eliminate the achievement gap. She did not take the time to find out what was working in Bellevue. Instead, she immediately took off her superintendent hat and put on her consultant hat. The result was that Bellevue was subject to the consultancy protocols that her consulting company would implement in any failing district. Although Bellevue had some problems, it was not a failing district.
BK said…
More on Superintendent Cudeiro ...
In the past, the focus in Bellevue was on the content (the curriculum). Bellevue does have a framework for a standardized curriculum, but this has always been a work in progress. With talk of professional development in the area of Differentiated Instruction (something that all good teachers do daily), Cudeiro’s vision is to focus on pedagogy rather than content.
Hopefully Bellevue will not lose Mike Riley’s legacy of a uniform curriculum accompanied by high academic standards and support for struggling students. That, in a nutshell, is what Bellevue did right during Riley’s tenure.
Cudeiro really needs to step up to the plate when it comes to communicating more clearly and more frequently with her employees. Who is she? What are the specifics of her vision? How does she expect to get us there?
She also needs to work on her human relation skills especially in the area of building trust with staff and community. None of her goals will be implemented unless she has the respect, cooperation and support of staff and parents. She has yet to earn this. Is she up to the task? This remains to be seen.
Carl Cohn, a school superintendent in San Diego said, “School reform will continue to fail unless we recognize that there are no quick fixes or perfect educational theories. School reform is a slow, steady, labor-intensive process that depends on harnessing the talent of individuals instead of punishing them for noncompliance with bureaucratic mandates and destroying their initiative.”
Same stuff – different district.

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